Early Adopters: Boomers Or Millennials? Yes, No, Maybe. Whatever.

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The Jetsons vs. The Flintstones

There’s a lot of fuzzy thinking about the meaning and value of early adopters. But one thing many mainstream marketers “know” with groupthink clarity is that consumers over fifty don’t qualify. Unless, of course, it involves incontinence products; apparently we’re light years ahead in that arena.

Actually, Boomers and older Gen Xers are uniquely qualified for inclusion in the discussion. Our favorite childhood cartoons – The Flintstones and The Jetsons – taught us the benefits of both early adoption and of enjoying what already works well. We learned early on to spot the real early adopters.

Jetsons and FlinstonesIs it George and Jane Jetson who live in in a future world where today’s cool technology seems to be headed?

Or is it Fred and Wilma, with their clunky yester-tech? After all, stone age thinker is an everyday stereotype for the laggards among us.

Thanks to the enduring re-run appeal of Hanna-Barbera Studios, it’s a debate Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials can all join, each with a full set of warm childhood memories.

Well, decision time: we come down on the side of Fred and Wilma as the early adopters.

Their world was full of inventiveness and creativity. Sure, the all kinks hadn’t been worked out, but they continued to progress whenever pursuing new technology made sense. Kind of like Boomers over the last half century.

We once relied on colorful Detroit dinosaurs for transportation and carried mobile phones with the heft of a Neanderthal stone ax. But, with our irrepressible adaptability, we went on to build the import car market, invent the Internet and launch the iPhone.

PebblesGeorge and Jane, however, represent the late majority; their cool gadgetry is in place, beta-tested, fully operational and downloaded from the App Store.

More like today’s “early adopters” who snap up trendy Apple watches – but only after many Pebbles have shown that it’s safe to do so.

Millennials: late adopters of home ownership

Based on a recent Zillow survey, the Associated Press reports Millennials are renting longer and delaying buying their first home (AP, August 17, 2015). The ABC News version of the story provided expanded coverage headlined More Millennials Stuck Renting for Years Before Buying Home.

Some have tried to spin that young people are cool early adopters of long term rental living. AP’s take-away is more realistic: young adults, loaded with student loan debt and facing uncertain job prospects, are delaying home purchase.

We Boomers who started out so well back in 1970s worry as our Millennial kids struggle to follow the same life-track. Compared with our early experiences, their financial challenges are daunting. AP tells us first time buyers today versus in the 1970s …

  • Caught in the rainRent for 6 years before buying … vs. 2.8 years
  • Median age 33 years … vs. 30 years
  • Pay a median price equal to 2.6 times their income … vs. 1.7 times
  • And face rents that are increasing twice as fast as average hourly wages
  • And face more rigorous bank underwriting rules than ever before

Of course, this pattern is part of a larger story. Millennials may be the future of mainstream brand prosperity but their parents – the fifty-plus generation – own most of the buying power today.

The Boomer-Plus generation: owners of the nation’s net worth

US Hhold Net Worth by AgeAccording to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by  Boomer / neXt, the 110 million Americans in the 50+ space own 80% of U.S. household net worth.

In contrast, households headed by someone under 35 own only 2%.

Yet despite enormous Boomer clout in the marketplace, most mainstream brands take us for granted.

Advertisers have so much difficulty relating to consumers outside the 18-49 demo that many simply don’t even try. Instead, chasing the cash-strapped Millennial economy, brands miss the big picture: Boomer Bedrock may not look glamorous on the surface, but that’s where disruptive opportunities to grow share still live.

Yabba dabba doo!


Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

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